Street finds – the Saab 95 V4!

I hadn’t seen a Saab 95 for probably 20 years when I bumped into this one in the old town of Zurich last week! As all Saabs of the 92-96 generation they’ve become a rare sight these days, but were they a frequent one when I grew up in Sweden… The 95 was especially popular out in the archipelago where we had our summer house, with the locals appreciating the combination of flexiblity and (low) price it provided. This was indeed Saab’s first estate, and interestingly the last until the modern 9-5 21 years later, carrying the same name but now with a dash between the numbers.

Curious lines and angles – maybe not Saab’s most beautiful creation…

So what makes the 95 something to write about, except of course the fantastic condition of this almost 50-year old example? Well, the design is… interesting. I wouldn’t call it ugly, but it’s a bit unclear what Saab was trying to achieve. Especially seen from the side, the different windows and angles create an interesting mix that certainly takes some getting used to, but the front and back are rather cool. More interesting though is the fact that the car was approved for not four, not five, but seven passengers, all in 4.1 metres: two in the front, three in the back and two in a reversed foldable seat in the boot, the same system Mercedes used in the E-class over many years. The extra seat had to be removed during the last production years for safety concerns.

Not a bad paint job – the sun plays tricks

Around 110.000 Saab 95’s were built over 19 years from 1959 to 1978, in parallel to the more well-known Saab 96 sedan. The model range started with the Saab 92 back in 1949, Saab’s first production car. The 93 followed in 1956 and became known for its rally successes, mostly with the (for Swedish readers) famous Erik Carlsson “Carlsson på taket” behind the wheel (the nickname translates to “Carlsson on the roof” from Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book of the same name, and was one he earned in a rally where he ended up on the 93’s roof). The Saab 96 was the 93’s replacement and was built until 1980 when the range was discontinued in favour of the 99 that was already produced since a few years, and later the 900.

Saab actually raced an estate long before Volvo did!

At the start, the 95 had a not very exciting two-stroke engine, but it then got the famous V4 in 1967 which in the last years developed up to 68 hp, in other words almost ten per allowed passenger! Then again, the car weighed less than a ton. From the two-stroke and onwards, all engines had the so called “free wheel”, an invention Saab made popular and that can be explained as the engine going down to idle as soon as you release the throttle. This was seen as a way to save fuel and also not having to use the clutch when downshifting. The system would actually survive mechanically until the Saab 99 and notably Toyota have used an electronic version of it on modern cars. Then again, it was never a lack of technical innovations that caused Saab’s premature death – this was after all the brand that popularized the turbo engine!

“Why do we always have to sit back here….”

Very few 95’s are left today which isn’t very surprising when you consider these were work horses rather than Sunday cars. And they really didn’t have the best rust protection in the world… So seeing such a nice one on the street as I did was great, as finding one today isn’t easy. This is however one of those Swedish classics where there can be important price differences between Scandinavia (especially Sweden) and the rest of Europe. This is clearly explained by the offer of cars being larger, but unfortunately many of these are in poor condition. That said, even the few you would be interested in usually go for very reasonable prices, meaning around EUR 10-15.000 in the case of the Saab 95.

Whenever you see a car like the Saab 95 it’s also interesting observing how people react to it. Whilst I was taking the two top pictures of the car, a number of people stopped, pointed fingers and smiled. If you compare this to the rather testosterone-rich, guttural sounds you tend to hear around for example an Aventador, it’s clear how a car like the Saab 95 awakens positive memories and emotions. Mind you, this was even without the owner being there to ignite all the 68 hp of the V4… I’m not sure it can compete with an Aventador, but those who know it tend to remember it, even if like the Saab 95, it belongs to a bygone era!

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